- United Airlines is adding 270 aircraft to its fleet that will come standard with seat-back television screens.
- Existing Boeing and Airbus will be upgraded to include seat-back screens through 2025.
- United can now better compete with Delta Air Lines and surpasses American Airlines in the entertainment realm.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
United Airlines is giving its aircraft a massive upgrade to keep flyers entertained.
The Chicago-based airline on Tuesday unveiled the largest aircraft order of its history for a total of 270 next-generation Boeing and Airbus aircraft. The order, part of the “United Next” plan, will overhaul United’s domestic fleet and make its aircraft some of the youngest in the skies.
Inside the new aircraft will also be a brand-new entertainment suite for passengers with seat-back screens at every seat. More than 2,800 selections of movies, television shows, music, podcasts, and games will be available through the seat-back systems in a 180-degree reversal from United’s previous strategy of relegating entertainment to mobile devices via streaming.
United’s first class seats will see 33cm high-definition screens while economy seats will have 25cm screens. In-seat power will also be offered through USB charging ports under the screens and standard power outlets under the seat.
Mood lighting will be standard on the aircraft for a futuristic look that creates an ambience to match the time of day. Flyers also won’t have to stress about finding a home for their carry-on bags as larger overhead bins will be installed that United CEO Scott Kirby says will be able to fit “100%” of bags.
A total of 178 new aircraft with the new interiors will be added to United’s fleet by the end of 2023. Existing aircraft will also be upgraded to the new standard through 2025 with the majority of United’s fleet being upgraded by the end of 2023.
Regional aircraft including the Embraer E175 or Bombardier CRJ550 fleet will not see the interior upgrades but United is planning to use more “‘mainline” Boeing and Airbus aircraft on North American routes that will have the entertainment upgrades.
United’s plan will better position the carrier to compete with Delta and will give the airline a leg up on American. Delta is the only airline among the “big three” US international carriers to offer seat-back screens on the majority of its Boeing and Airbus single-aisle aircraft, with the exception of the Boeing 717.
“United, with today’s announcement, is certainly eroding some of the product features that Delta has such as in-seat entertainment,” Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider, noting that Delta had similarly retrofitted most of its aging narrow-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft with new interiors that include television screens.
United will also quickly surpass American Airlines in the in-flight entertainment realm by offering seat-back screens. American shares United’s former thinking that streaming entertainment is the way forward and does not include seat-back screens on many of its domestic narrow-body aircraft.
Beyond in-flight entertainment and power, United will also offer more flights on aircraft equipped with first class and extra-legroom “EconomyPlus” seats, to the tune of 75% more premium seats per departure compared to present levels.
At least 200 of United’s 50-seat aircraft will also be retired and replaced with larger jets with more premium seating. The move follows an industry trend of retiring the smallest regional aircraft that don’t feature first class cabins.
“United was very clear that it is going to compete not necessarily by having the most first-class seats on a domestic narrow-body aircraft, but certainly they’re going to compete with having what appears to be more extra-legroom seats on their planes,” Harteveldt said. “And that I think could be a very, very successful strategy.”